Saturday, October 11, 2008

Moroccan Fashion

I am working on another grant application. I am having a hard time finding both motivation and inspiration; after two frustrating other ones, I just can’t find the energy to put what want I want to do in yet another new set of words. I had sort of hoped I could recycle what I wrote for the last one, and which I felt good about, but as it turns out the maximum length of this proposal is about half that of the previous one.

In any case, because this grant is due on November 5, I am spending a fair amount of time at home, upstairs, trying to come up with something to write. I think my host family feels sorry for me that I am at home so much. I catch them saying things to each other like ‘poor girl, spending all day at home working.’ I explained to them as best I could what I’m working on and why it’s taking up time, but still.

I think this is why they keep inviting me out everywhere. And because a) I can’t find inspiration to write this grant, b) going out with women and seeing what they do all day is precisely the reason I’m here, and c) I also think being out is much more fun than working on this thing, I say yes to everything.

So last night Manal showed me where she works. She makes jellabas and caftans, and shares a little shop/workplace with a few others where she makes these garments on order.

A jellaba (pronounced ‘zyell-AB-a) is a kind of coat/dress with a hood on it. It looks like this:

This is daily wear for whenever you go outdoors. Simply slip it on over the PJs you wear day & night in the house, and you’re ready to go. The model is always the same, but they come in all fabrics and colors. Men and women both wear them (although they choose different fabrics and colors). The official national costume for men is a white/cream colored jellaba with a red fez hat and yellow slippers. The king (Mohammed VI) wears this on all national holidays. Here he is with his son, crown Prince Moulay Hassan:

(These shoes, by the way, are also very traditionally Moroccan. They also come in all kinds of colors and fabrics, but the yellow ones go with the national costume).
During Ramadan, I noticed that all photo studios had set up these elaborate studios outside, featuring a rich-looking fabric backdrop and an ornate couch. Alma explained to me when she and I passed one together, that it is tradition during Ramadan for parents to have their young children dress up in traditional costume for the first time and officially photographed. And indeed, when we walked past this particular photo studio, we saw tiny little 3 year-old boys in tiny little white jellabas, tiny red fez hats, and tiny yellow slippers. It was too precious for words.

But while adults really will wear a jellaba most of the time they go outside (though not everyone does so – Alma and Fatima almost always wear one, but Manal hardly ever does. And women wear them more than men do), I haven’t seen anyone under the age of, let’s say 25, wearing one on a daily basis.

When men wear white jellabas, women wear caftans. This is Moroccan eveningwear, so to speak. They look like this:

Mostly they come in three parts; a dress of sorts, an overcoat made of a thin lacy fabric, and a wide belt that is worn over the top. But there is much more variation with caftans than there is with jellabas; not only in terms of fabrics (often much more luxurious than those used for jellabas) but also in terms of model or cut. There is a whole fashion industry devoted to caftans, and every year the magazine ‘Femmes du Maroc’ publishes its Caftan-issue, with hundreds of pages of pictures from runway shows that feature the latest models. Designers can be as avant-garde with the traditional caftan-design as they are with Western clothing. Manal had hundreds of these magazines stacked in a corner of her shop, and I spent a fair amount of time looking through them. I think these dresses are beautiful, and I kind of want one – but when would I ever wear it?

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